Children tour Gloucester Cathedral in England (file image)
UK health agencies believe children are at low risk from COVID-19, ending a vaccination program. (Stuart Parker/AAP IMAGES)

Viral post about UK vaccine program for kids is false

Kate Atkinson September 22, 2022

Children in the UK aged five to 11 will no longer be offered COVID-19 vaccines due to concerns about developmental side effects.


False. UK children who turned five before August 31 or those in high-risk groups are still eligible to be vaccinated.

An Instagram post from an Australian anti-vaccine mandate group claims five to 11 year olds in the United Kingdom will no longer be offered COVID-19 vaccines due to concerns about developmental side effects.

The claim is false. The UK vaccination program for children aged five to 11 in non-clinical risk groups ended on August 31, 2022. Children in high-risk groups or those who turned five before that date are still eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

The decision to end vaccine eligibility for those turning five after August 31 was because UK health agencies believe children are at low risk from COVID-19 and many would have already been infected with the coronavirus.

A screenshot of the Instagram post.
 The Instagram post rehashes a tweet from a discredited American anti-vaccination activist. 

The post (archived here) is a screenshot of a tweet from Simone Gold, the founder of right-wing anti-vaccine organisation America’s Frontline Doctors.

She was recently released from prison after serving a two-month sentence for her role in the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Her post reads: “BREAKING: Children in the UK aged 5-11 will no longer be offered COVID jabs. The jab was also banned from children who had not turned five by the end of last month. The decision was due to concerns with developmental side effects in children. Wow.”

Dr Gold’s tweet has been shared widely on Instagram and Facebook – see here, here, here, here, here and here.

However, her claim is misinformation, with one expert labelling it “a myth”.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) told AAP FactCheck that “nothing has changed with 5-11s”.

“The eligibility was always due to end on August 31 and that was first announced in February this year,” the agency said in an email.

“Those who are eligible (i.e. turned 5 before Aug 31) can still get the vaccine.”

A rapid antigen test showing a negative result (file image)
 UK authorities believe many children in the UK have already been infected with COVID-19. 

Dr Gavin Dabrera, UKHSA’s deputy director of COVID-19 vaccines and epidemiology, said there had been no change to the offer of COVID vaccines for children in this age group.

“In February 2022, the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) advised a one-off, non-urgent offer for children aged 5-11 years who were not in clinical risk groups,” he told AAP FactCheck in an email.

“From the outset, this offer was only applicable to children who turned five years old by August 31 2022.

“The NHS in England vaccinates in line with this guidance and eligible children who turned five by 31 August can still come forward for the jab.”

The JCVI said in its February statement that “this one-off programme applies to those currently aged 5 to 11, including those who will turn 5 years of age by the end August 2022.”

Broadening vaccine eligibility to include this age group was intended to “increase the immunity of vaccinated individuals against severe COVID-19 in advance of a potential future wave of COVID-19″.

Experts believe the temporary program should have been extended, but say the decision has nothing to do with concerns about side effects.

Sheena Cruickshank, a professor in biomedical sciences at the University of Manchester, said the JCVI ended the eligibility period on August 31 because “they believed that COVID is not a serious infection for young children” and “many children will have already been exposed to the virus”.

“They also gave some consideration of the financial costs of rolling out vaccines,” she told AAP FactCheck in an email.

Prof Cruickshank criticised the JCVI decision, but said there were no concerns about developmental side effects.

“The JCVI minimised the idea of the real harms COVID can cause (and) the role of children in transmitting (the) virus to other age groups,” she said.

“There is no evidence that the vaccines cause developmental issues.

“They have been delivered safely to billions of people now and notably are highly recommended for pregnant women precisely because of the risk of covid both to the developing baby and the mother.”

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccination (file image)
 Experts say there are no safety or developmental concerns about COVID-19 vaccines for UK children. 

Christina Pagel, a professor of operational research at the University College London, agrees.

Professor Pagel told AAP FactCheck ending the program for children turning five “is not because of safety or developmental concerns”.

“It’s because the UK vaccine committee believe (wrongly in my opinion) that children are not at risk from COVID and so there is little benefit (especially given most have been infected by now) and because the committee believe (again I think wrongly) that offering the COVID vaccine takes resources away from delivering other childhood vaccines which they consider higher priority,” she said in an email.

Adam Finn, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Bristol and a JCVI committee member, also told AAP FactCheck in an email there are no known concerns around developmental side effects.

Professor Finn labelled the post’s claim “a myth”.

A similar claim has also been debunked here.

The Verdict

The claim UK children aged five to 11 will no longer get COVID-19 vaccines due to concerns about developmental side effects is false. Children in clinical risk groups or those who turned five before August 31, 2022, are still eligible for vaccination.

The decision to end the vaccine eligibility was because UK health agencies believe children are at low risk from COVID and many have already been infected. Experts criticised the decision, but told AAP FactCheck there are no concerns about side effects from the vaccine.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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